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Nov 30, 2015
by Heather Jaber
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Riham Bahi - The US’ non-interventionist approach is exacerbating the Middle East crisis

Riham Bahi, assistant professor of international relations at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University, discussed US foreign policy towards the Middle East and misconceptions about the nature of the region

Recent events in the Middle East, including the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War, and the offshoot of ISIS, are shining a spotlight on the relationship between the US and the region. At the most recent Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, Fellow Riham Bahi discussed the US' non-interventionist approach, its implications for the region, and misconceptions about the Middle East.

In the past three presidential administrations, said Bahi, assistant professor of international relations at Cairo University, we have heard that human rights and democracy promotion are important components to US foreign policy. But these seem to be at the bottom of the list when it comes to their approaches to the Middle East, she said.

“It's more about security and stability, again, one more time, in the old sense,” said Bahi. “As if nothing has happened, no revolution took place, no Arab Spring took place.”

Part of the issue seems to come from the mischaracterization of the region as undemocratic, violent, and religious, said the assistant professor.

“It’s not fair to say that the region is undemocratic,” she said. “This is not fair to the thousands and thousands of people who lost their lives, men and women, who are in prison because they defended or demanded democracy, social justice, freedom, equality.”

Nor is the region inherently violent, said the Fellow, as opposed to what some may posit. Bahi cited the 18 days of peaceful protest that removed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, rather than the years of violent extremism by Al Qaeda. And while representations of the region may paint it as religious, the same region removed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. In terms of violent Islamism, ISIS fighters do not only come from the region, but are recruited from abroad.

One of the biggest obstacles to the relationship between the US and Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is not witnessing serious plans for peace negotiations. Another issue is the foreign policy of the US and Europe towards the region.

“This non-interventionist approach has led to the exacerbation of the crisis,” said Bahi. “We should have dealt with Syria in the beginning of the conflict instead of waiting. Four years later we have this big refugee problem facing Europe.”

Still, the atmosphere at the seminar led to dialogue of timely issues such as these. “The collegial atmosphere that people are tough on the issue but easy on each other [was] really good,” said Bahi. “Where else do you get to see participants from 27 countries? It is as international as you can get.”

Check out the full interview below.

Riham Bahi was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: